The first Thanksgiving then Christmas season after my mom passed away I was torn, part of me wanted to pack up the family and head to the Caribbean and pretend none of it was happening and the rest of me wanted to create an idyllic celebration in her honor. In the 12 Christmases we’ve had since my mom’s passing I’ve felt every range of emotion. I’ve also learned great ideas on how we can honor our deceased loved ones.
Here are 10 easy, but powerful ways to honor your deceased loved one during the holidays:
- Have something made with their photo. This can be a pillow, a blanket with photos of you together, a framed photo on the wall, a mug that makes you smile. This act brings your loved one into your day-to-day, it diminishes the feelings of separation. It also takes a past moment and brings it into your present and future.
- Make a recipe that reminds you of them. I love making the rice pudding my mom used to make, my sister recreates an amazing pasta salad my mom made, my daughter loves to make her ginger snaps. Each time we make this meal or dessert we share stories of her while making or eating and it helps me to feel a connection to our times together.
- Make or buy a journal that is devoted to your loved one. Write the dreams you have of them, the signs you’ve gotten (I call them Sacred Hellos). Use the journal to write letters to them in both tough and good times. There are beautiful hand made journals available, you can embellish one, or make one yourself. Gift yourself this chance to go completely over the top if your heart is calling you towards more bling, feathers, leather, ribbons, lush papers, or a pen that makes you feel special when you write with it. Those little details all help add to the ceremony of collecting your feelings, words, hopes, dreams, and memories.
- Create or buy a remembrance ornament. The Christmas after my mom passed away my aunt Pam got me a gorgeous boxed set of ornaments featuring 3 photos of my mom over the years. To this day, every time I hang those ornaments it spurs conversations about her with my kids and helps remind me to take a moment to consciously appreciate all the Christmases I shared with my mom. It also helps me to bring her energy into my current Christmas. I happen to be in the business of creating remembrance ornaments, the most common things I see are people adding names, dates of birth, and years of death on an ornament. The ornaments often include cardinals, blue jays, or other backgrounds that remind them of their loved ones.
- Revive an old tradition. The last few Christmases with my mom we all got bundled up in the Minnesota winter cold and went out for a calm walk in the dark. It was magical. The last year the snow was falling, we had 3 generations together as we all walked down the quiet road my parents lived on. Other years at my grandma’s house we’d pass out Christmas music and sing carols, later my parents integrated this into their own celebrations a few times. One of my favorite times was while I was going through a divorce, my life seemed full of too many unknowns, my Grandma was able to get out of the nursing home for the day, relatives were in from a few different states. My dad and uncle got out their guitars, another uncle turned a cooler into a drum, we all sat around singing carols and had so much fun. It inspired me so much I did a painting of it. Traditions can be obvious or they can be the ways the gifts are passed out, scripture read aloud, a favorite movie watched, it’s all so special and there is power in finding the pieces of it that you want to carry forward.
- Put a subtle or obvious nod to your loved one within your decor. This can be a framed photo on the wall, a painting that reminds you of them, or it can even be a letter you have from them that you’ve taped on the wall behind another piece of art. I have rocks around my house I’ve collected from different places and events that remind me of people and vacations. There can also be things like a key chain, tattoo, miniature on a shelf, or blanket that makes you feel connected to your loved one. Outdoor you can use wind chimes, crystal prisms, or sculptures in a garden. There are no right or wrong answers, only what you feel connected to. My mother in law turned my mom’s old bowling ball into a gazing ball; she used mirror pieces, my mom’s broken china, and photos of her and created a piece of yard art for me that I’ve cherished for over a decade.
- Turn their clothing into new things. My cousin made beautiful pillows from my Grandpa’s plaid shirts and added a decal of his signature on each. I later used strips of these same shirts to string the ornaments I made to honor his memory. I used my mom’s old fabric to create reusable Christmas gift bags. I’ve also used fabric and ribbon to wrap gifts in, recover chairs, and cover a corkboard to bring those items from the storage into ways they can be appreciated. Popular other items are teddy bears or stuffed animals, aprons, and quilts.
- Light a candle. Ask friends and family to light a candle in your loved one’s honor. Say a prayer, talk to your loved one, think of a positive time you had together while you light the candle. Make a moment of it. It can be a white candle or get a scent that reminds you of your loved one. There are great musky, manly smelling candles, or scents that bring you back in time such as vanilla, cranberry, apple pie, or woodsy. Scents can be an incredible memory maker and a reminder of past times. What a lovely way to ceremoniously honor our loved ones while also using our sense of smell for good.
- Play a song. Is there a song that makes you feel connected to your loved one? Give yourself the duration of that song to have a full-on crying session, to feel gratitude, think back to times together, feel them around you, or simply sit and see what you feel. This can be a Christmas carol, your loved one’s favorite song, or one that reminds you of them. There are no rules.
- Create a sacred space to honor your love for them. Some will call this an altar, if you don’t feel a connection to that term, whatever you want to call this is okay. You can use a shelf, the top of a dresser, a corner area… use whatever you have that works and feels right. You can layer fabrics, special momentos, add art, letters, a candle, photos. This is a place that is made specifically to honor your loved one, it should make you feel connected to them, it should feel special and uniquely perfect for both you and the person you’re honoring.
There is power in creating ceremony, in taking any regular moment, and adding reverence to it. To do this is to mentally and physically stop and take note of the moment. It’s to bookmark it in your brain and pause to let it absorb. There are benefits to doing this; it helps us feel the moment stronger, it helps us to know we are declaring it as important.
You can also read more about my feelings on past holidays in another article I’ve written called, “What I’ve learned about holiday expectations since my mom’s death”. You can find that article here.
Give yourself grace, know that the holidays won’t continuously get harder or easier. Each year, your emotions may be different. What would you add to this list? Help us all out by sharing your wisdom and experiences on what you’ve seen or done to honor your loved one in the comments. Best wishes to you.
Noelle Rollins is an artist and author. Her new book, Sacred Hellos – Messages from Heaven is now available worldwide on Amazon or SacredHellos.com